I would like talk about the relevance of the entrepreneurial ethnographic self for project management. Let’s start with a short description of what we see and hear in the short film documenting 2-3 situations at the construction site in Poppenbüttel
We see and hear different people talking about what to do and how to do it. And: how to accomplish a work They are discussing: Whom to work with best. Who knows about what. How one could or how one should build a prototype. Which tools could fit and where to get them.
Let me give you a first interpretation of these scenes:
Nothing of what is talked about is actually being done – at least from what we see; hopefully it will be done soon. Because time is short. Nobody seems to be responsible or is actually managing the site
We see a project in suspension or we simply see the everyday condition of a project. What we see for sure is the heat, it’s summer, it’s a summer school – It’s not school and you are allowed to leave because it’s too hot, it’s neither an office and you could take it easy, a day off.
I will come back to the heat.
It’s life in a project, life with a deadline for a project. We see a project at work that probably gets managed. It relies on the self-management of people who take part, who take it serious and relate to the project out of different motivations. And it would be interesting to know what exactly is the motivation for each one to take part in this project.
But there is something else that leads us already halfway to the entrepreneurial ethnographic self:
The project that we see at work relies on social relations made possible by self-management. Remember: nobody actually seemed to manage the others.
Self-management includes the idea of the self, it articulates the self in a certain shape. And here I would say – and a lot of scholars do so - it's the normative figure of the entrepreneurial self that is at work here, it is articulated in the way people participate in the summer school’s project.
In social theory the idea of the entrepreneurial self relies on the concept of gouvernementality as it was put forward by Michel Foucault. The German sociologist Ulrich Bröckling wrote a book about the normativity of the entrepreneurial self. He is able to show how in different kinds of material the idea of the entrepreneurial self is inscribed, like of course in books about self-management, but also in regulations at work and so on.
He describes the history of these norms, the techniques of selfmanamgent and the crucial role of work in the shape of projects.
Work in the shape of projects is temporary. A fact that brings along a certain degree of precariousness. It individualises risk and relies on techniques of accounting for the valuation of success and failure. These techniques are reflected in simple things like a CV, they also lead to the need of coaching sessions, but they may also be expressed in a certain atmosphere of team meetings or things like that. Your project team colleagues are your friends (or should better be so), work and private time gets very much intertwined. I was intrigued by the role of introspection and evaluation of success of failure. It made me think about a historical moment in ethnography. And I would say that it was in the end of the 1960ies that social and cultural anthropologist developed (?) the normative figure of the entrepreneurial ethnographic self.
What had happened?
In the end of the 1960 the diaries of Bronislaw Malinowski were published, post mortem. BM counts as the founding father of field work in s. and c.a. He had done his research at the Trobriand Island, south pacific during ww 1, and published his work from the 1920 onwards. His diaries are full of intimate expressions of his fears, disgust, attractions, desires and so. And, by the way, in his monographs nothing is said about heat. Michael Taussig puts it that way: “reality is an out-of-body experience”. But, as you can imagine, A lot is said about heat and how much it scared and annoyed him in the diary. This of course annoyed some of his readers, others took it as an opportunity to make the bodily experience the main source for their ethnographic material.
Anyhow, while the public was shocked, he was there for nothing, he did not consider it worthy to be published. But, after his dead there was an atmosphere where intimate reflections became professional utterances. There was a mood for self-exposure. The difference between private and public knowledge was shifted – by project work? It's the time, were new management theories spread all over the workplace, as Ulrich Bröckling and others have shown.
And here is the historical relation between project work in ethnography and today: Ethnography relies on field work. Field work is temporally limited. It is based on the professionally motivated personal involvement into the life of others. The ethnographer valuates, evaluates by introspection and analyses success and failure in fieldwork as research data. There are, I would say, some similarities between fieldwork as project work and project work as such.
Why is that important for project management?
The figure of the entrepreneurial ethnographic self in project work is highly ambivalent: It is self-full-filling and self-exhausting. The techniques of accounting translate basically credit-debt-relations into everyday live, as a crucial form of social relation. This it what scholars such as Angela McRobbie, Laura Berlant or Miranda Joseph have argued in their studies of creative milieus, the representation of optimism and the multiple calculation practices that are inscribed in our daily lives.
So, in my view, the question of project management has to be: how can project management become more or something else than the management of the above mentioned ambivalence? And how can it create social relations that are different from credit-debt-relations?
To answer these questions you have to find social relations in project work that do not individualise risk, where the self has other options than to be on the side of credit (future) or debt (past); where being accountable (by the way of a diary or credit points) is only one way to live a life in projects.
Bröckling, U., 2007. Das unternehmerische Selbst: Soziologie einer Subjektivierungsform. Originalausgabe. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Eakin, E., 2001. Anthropology’s Alternative Radical. The New York Times, 21 Apr.
Färber, A., 2009. Das unternehmerische Ethnografische Selbst. Aspekte der Intensivierung der Arbeit im ethnologisch-ethnografischen Feldforschungsparadigma. In: I. Dietzsch, W. Kaschuba, and L. Scholze-Irrlitz, eds. Horizonte ethnografischen Wissens: Eine Bestandsaufnahme. Köln: Böhlau, 178–202.
McRobbie, A., 2015. Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. 1st ed. Camcridge, UK ; Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
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